From Publishers Weekly
Noted author and translator Halkin (Letters to an American Jewish Friend) offers a captivating tale that is part travelogue, part ethnography, part cultural treasure hunt. His trail of tantalizing clues too often leads nowhere, but readers should hang in, because the search is not in vain, and the culture Halkin describes is in itself striking. He visits the Mizo people of northeast India a people who improbably but passionately claim to be descendants of the ancient Israelite tribe of Manasseh, one of the 10 tribes of northern Israel who were exiled by the Assyrians around 720 B.C. and then lost to history. Mizo tradition says they are the "children of Manmasi" possibly a corruption of Manasseh. Their rituals include a fragment of a "red sea song" and the symbolic circumcision of a baby boy eight days after birth; their god is named Za or Ya, possibly linguistically related to the biblical Yahweh. The attempt to trace Mizo traditions is frustrated by the disintegration of what they call "the old religion" as Christianity has insinuated itself into even remote regions of Asia. The intense desire of the Mizos to be considered Jews is both comical and touching (and colored by an equally intense desire to emigrate to Israel); their internecine conflicts over theology will be sadly familiar to Jews everywhere. Halkin offers a rich portrait of an entire people suffering an identity crisis in the midst of a region filled with ethnic turmoil, and his conclusions about the origins of the Manmasi people will amaze even skeptical readers.
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Like the search for Atlantis and for Noah's Ark, the search for the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel has entranced both professional scholars and amateur sleuths. Native American and Bantu tribes, North African Berbers and Tauregs of the Sahara, have all been linked to the tribes with varying degrees of credibility. Halkin is a native of New York City who has lived in Israel since 1970. His search for a lost tribe led him to scour remote regions of China and the borderlands of northeast India. He writes with a beautifully descriptive, flowing prose that enhances our appreciation of the exotic locales and peoples he encountered. He also marshals some fascinating anecdotal and semihistorical evidence to support his conclusions. Ultimately, however, his claim to have "proved" that the Kuki-Chin-Mizo people of northeast India and Burma are linked to the ancient Israelites does not ring true. Still, his efforts to prove his case have resulted in an absorbing tale of a quest that succeeds as a travel book rather than as a work of historical scholarship. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved